Don't think you can wing it!

What NOT to do! Don’t think you can wing it!

I was speaking a Women’s Networking event in Sydney. As usual, I was the speaker after lunch. This is a spot I’m known for because I like to use props and dancing to reinforce my key messages so it’s easy to stay awake even if your body clock is telling you are tired at a conference!


Where possible, I like to attend the sessions run by the speakers who come before me on the program. It means I can refer back to what they’ve said. Plus, I think it’s respectful to understand your place on a conference program.


Anyway, I was watching the opening speaker. He was an arrogant fellow from a big international Fortune 500 company. He took the stage amidst thunderous applause. And his opening sentence was, “You’ll have to forgive me. My brother is in town and we went out on the p*ss last night, so I’m very hung over and unprepared for today’s presentation. Sorry.”  OMG!  What? I had to shake my head to see if I was hearing things! Seriously, he thought that was OK to say that as his opening line!


It’s not OK on a number of levels is it?


Firstly, it’s not cool to say you’re under the weather and not in tip top shape for today’s presentation. At all costs you must have your clients believe this is the highlight of your month, even your year!


Secondly, to turn up to speak at an event without preparing is unforgivable. One of my famous sayings is, “People could be somewhere else”. What I mean is that people have so many options for how they will spend their time when they are at a conference. They don’t have to be in the room with you. They could be by the pool, eating in the restaurant, sleeping in their room, but they are not, they are here, listening to you. So please, make it worth their time!

Now, lots of people tell me that they think they need to wing their presentations. They say that if they prepare too much or rehearse it too often, they lose their authenticity. Guess what? This is wrong! There’s a sweet spot that you hit when you have rehearsed enough times. Enough times is when a) you can’t get it wrong and b) when it doesn’t sound rehearsed. So, if you sound robotic, it’s a sign you haven’t practiced enough yet.


Sorry, this may be bad news for you. Here are the facts….excellent presenters prepare properly. They don’t ever try to just ‘wing it’. Steve Jobs was a famously inspiring speaker. His speeches looked so effortless, yet if you’ve ever read anything about him, you’ll know he prepared for days. We should do the same.


Careful preparation is essential for a persuasive presentation. I recommend you use some sort of analysis process first, then use post-it notes to brainstorm out your ideas. Then, if you have time to craft some linguistic patterns into your message so that you are as persuasive as possible, that’s awesome too. It would also be terrific to include some storytelling, some humour and some beautiful visual aids. All this happens when you prepare properly.


For some help with these things, including how to rehearse properly, you may like to read my book How to Present to learn exactly how to do this. Happy Presenting!


© Michelle Bowden 2020.  Michelle Bowden is an authority on presentation & persuasion in business. Michelle is a CSP (the highest designation for speakers in the world), co-creator of the PRSI (a world-first psychometric indicator that tests your persuasiveness at work), best-selling internationally published author (Wiley), and a regular commentator in print, radio and online media.


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